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No. 15 Mississippi State in center of SEC race

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No. 15 Mississippi State in center of SEC race

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Midway through the college football season, No. 15 Mississippi State is doing something it hasn't done in more than a decade: contending for the Southeastern Conference Western Division title and a spot in a BCS bowl game.

Those are realities not often seen in Starkville, though the Bulldogs are getting used to the attention.

``This is a lot of what they expected coming into the season,'' Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. ``To be in this situation as a program, this is what we drill in our guys to expect.

``And you know - it's fantastic.''

Especially considering:

- The Bulldogs haven't been ranked this high since 2000.

- Mississippi State's No. 12 spot in the current BCS standings is the third-highest in school history.

- The Bulldogs haven't been undefeated this late in a season since 1999.

Not that Mississippi State has a lot of time to bask in its early success. The Bulldogs (6-0) host Middle Tennessee State (4-2) on Saturday before a brutal stretch that includes showdowns at Alabama, against Texas A&M and at LSU.

Mullen isn't complaining about the schedule, he's just excited about the opportunity.

``In late October and in November you want to be playing big games,'' Mullen said. ``We've put ourselves in position to do that.''

Mississippi State's rise into the SEC's top tier isn't necessarily a huge surprise since the Bulldogs have been hanging around the national scene for nearly three years.

One reason is an improved offense that is much more balanced than in the recent past. Mullen was forced to go with a run-heavy approach his first three seasons because it suited his personnel, but first-year starting quarterback Tyler Russell has proven to be a much more potent big-play passing threat.

Russell threw for a career-high 23 completions and 291 yards in Saturday's 41-31 victory over Tennessee. The Bulldogs have scored at least 25 points in their first six games for the first time in the 113-year history of the football program.

Russell's favorite targets have been Chad Bumphis (468 yards, six touchdowns) and tight end Marcus Green (five touchdowns), but the Bulldogs have five players with at least 10 receptions. Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning said Russell's ability to consistently complete long passes has made his job easier.

``There's no doubt,'' Koenning said. ``Anytime you can get the big plays to happen, it's really good.''

It's certainly helped LaDarius Perkins find plenty of running room. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior is third in the SEC with 599 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Koenning said the Tennessee victory was important because it proved the Bulldogs could win a true shootout.

``I was proud of the way our team reacted,'' Koenning said. ``It was like a heavyweight fight. You get hit and what are you going to do? You're going to hit back. I saw that. Our team responded in every way. That's the sign of a good football team.''

Now there's conversation about whether the Bulldogs can become a great team.

There are reasons to be skeptical. After all, Mississippi State's three SEC wins have come against teams that are a combined 0-11 in conference play.

Mullen has two national championship rings from his days as the offensive coordinator at Florida. He said he doesn't talk to his team about goals on a national scale, instead focusing on an SEC championship.

``If we do that, I imagine great things will happen for us, and we'll be rewarded accordingly,'' Mullen said.

But the path to an SEC championship is never easy. And before the Bulldogs jump back into conference play, they're worried about a Middle Tennessee team that beat Georgia Tech by three touchdowns earlier this season.

And as the Bulldogs continue to win, the pressure gets more intense.

``You're not tricking anybody going into the second half of the season,'' MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. ``Everybody knows who's who and we know what we like and we know what they like. We've got to be a cleaner and more efficient. That comes down to preparation.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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Wizards take out Sixers to tie season series behind Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter's hot shooting

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards take out Sixers to tie season series behind Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter's hot shooting

The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 109-94 on Sunday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Playoff implications: Later in the season the stakes are raised and the Wizards' win over the Sixers on Sunday night could loom large in just a few weeks.

By beating the Sixers, who had won seven straight entering the matchup, the Wizards tied up the season series with their second win. A loss would have handed Philly the tiebreaker in playoff seeding if the two teams finish with the same record at season's end.

Now that their season series is over and locked even, it will come down to their record against other Eastern Conference teams if they tie. At 22-15 vs. the East, the Wizards currently have the edge on the Sixers, who are 18-14 in that category.

The Wizards dominated the Sixers for much of the night and they did so by once again moving the ball with generosity and precision. They had 35 assists on 43 field goals. The Wizards have had 30 or more assists in five games this season and four have come within the last month.

Those four games have been part of a 9-3 surge for the Wizards since John Wall got injured. With their win against Philly, the Wizards moved to 35-25 on the season and a half-game out of third in the East. The Sixers are among several teams nipping at their heels in an increasingly crowded conference.

PODCAST: WHAT SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

Oubre put on a show: The Wizards led 67-48 at halftime and that was in large part due to Kelly Oubre, Jr.'s impact on both ends of the floor. He had eight points in each of the first two quarters, including four threes, and made several key plays on defense.

Oubre had three blocks to set a career-high by halftime, including one on Robert Covington that bounced off Covington's leg and gave the Wizards possession. He also took a charge on Ben Simmons and flashed a smile for the cameras as he sprinted back down the floor.

Oubre ended the game with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting. It wasn't long ago that Oubre was in a significant shooting slump.

In his last 11 games before the All-Star break, Oubre was averaging just 9.4 points on 31.2 percent shooting. In three games since the break, Oubre has scored 47 points (15.7/g) while shooting 51.5 percent. It's safe to say he's put those shooting struggles behind him.

Oubre had been making his mark defensively as the Wizards closed the first half on a tear, but Sunday showed how much of a boost he can provide when he's in a rhythm offensively. He completely changed the game and helped the Wizards knock off a team that came to Washington super hot.

Porter wasn't fazed: Otto Porter did something on Sunday that likely has never been accomplished before. He hit not one, not two, not three but four buzzer-beaters all in the first half. Three of them were to beat the shot clock. Then, he hit another one to end the first half:

That shot capped an 8-1 run to end the second quarter for the Wizards and it brought a burst of energy out of the crowd. Porter had 14 points in the second quarter and shot 6-for-6 in the frame. The Wizards outscored the Sixers 37-20 in the second and Porter led the charge.

Porter finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Much like Bradley Beal, who had 24 points in this game, Porter has thrived in this second extended absence for Wall. Both Beal and Porter battle inconsistency as they adapted to being the primary focus of opposing teams back in November when Wall first went down. But this time around, they have answers to everything teams are throwing at them.

Porter's patience at the end of the shot clock on Sunday was an example of that. His confidence seems to be at an all-time high, knowing he has enough tricks to keep his opponents guessing. That was on display with under two minutes to go when he drained a three in Covington's face, turned around to stare at him afterwards and then shook his head as he trotted down the court, as if he were saying that no one can stop him. 

Up next: The Wizards are off Monday before playing back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday against the Bucks and Warriors. Tuesday is an 8 p.m. tipoff on TNT. We will have pre- and postgame coverage of Wizards-Bucks on NBC Sports Washington Plus beginning at 7 p.m.

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Dan Fegan, former agent for John Wall, dies in car crash

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Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Caravan

Dan Fegan, former agent for John Wall, dies in car crash

NBA agent Dan Fegan, who had previously represented many high-profile NBA clients including John Wall, died in a car crash Sunday morning, according to The Aspen Times. 

According to the report, Fegan's SUV was struck by a bus while trying to merge onto Highway 82 in Colorado a little after 9 am this morning. 

The two passengers in the car - an unidentified woman and Fegan's 5-year old daughter - were airlifted to a nearby hospital with serious injuries. 

Fegan was 56.